Is 2006 the Year that SOA Really Takes Off?

As like any new technology or paradigm, this time of the year raises the proverbial question. Will this be the year that X really takes off? Well X this year is Service Oriented Architecture.

I can safely say this has been a re-occurring question for the last couple of years. Initially it was based around the discussion of the maturity and uptake of web services and this quickly transitioned to the larger proposition of SOA.

So is 2006 the year SOA really takes off? Unfortunately it is not an easy Yes or No answer. To highlight this quandary and to hopefully answer whether 2006 will be the year that SOA takes off, we should consider 2 well-known models – Crossing the chasm, and the Hype Cycle.

Hype Cycle

Gartner’s hype cycle graphically represents the maturity, adoption and business application of specific technologies/paradigms. Since 1995, Gartner has used hype cycles to characterize the over-enthusiasm or “hype” and subsequent disappointment that typically happens with the introduction of new technologies/paradigms.

Back in July 2005 Gartner stated that the use of web services is approaching the “Plateau of Productivity”. This can be attributed to some key web services standards being published and being made available in a plethora of tools and products.

In contrast, Gartner stated that SOA is currently approaching the “Trough of Disillusionment”. It has taken a while for SOA to reach this state and it feels as though SOA has been hyped beyond past new technologies/paradigms. I believe this is due to the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” being magnified with the use of the internet for mass marketing distribution and that SOA is known to be a discontinuous innovation, as it requires enterprises and individuals to change their existing behavior to attain the benefits.

With SOA approaching the “Trough of Disillusionment”, I do not see this as a negative but as a positive, as the focus will now move away from the marketing aspects and onto the real delivery of SOA.

SOA Adoption Lifecycle

The adoption life cycle sometimes known as the ‘Belief curve’ is a model for understanding the acceptance of new technology/paradigms. Exceptions exist for every rule but in essence the model describes in a generic fashion the market penetration of any new technology/paradigm in terms of various types of consumers.

Using Geoffrey A. Moore’s adapted adoption life cycle and applying it to SOA, each consumer has a number of chasms to address. Without addressing these chasms new technology/paradigms can lose momentum.



Innovators tend to be technology enthusiasts who tend to jump onto new technology rather rapidly before contemplating the significance to the business or IT. These “techies” in the SOA Adoption life cycle have tended not to understand the breadth and depth of SOA and see SOA as purely a technology play. These companies have still yet to fully understand the opportunities and ramifications of SOA.

Integrated development environments have matured to a level whereby creating web services from existing components is effortless. This creates what I like to call a “Right-Click” architecture.

For innovators to cross this chasm they must understand the difference between a Service Oriented Architecture and a Web Services Architecture. SOA Education is key to not only executives but to a company’s development community. Management must understand that SOA is not purely a technology play but encompasses all aspects of an IT strategy and developers must understand that developing JBOWS (Just a bunch of web services) is not SOA. Until both understand this then the majority of the benefits that SOA offers will not be realized.

Early Adopters

Early adopters have the vision to see the strategic business impact that new technology/paradigms can offer and utilize it to gain a competitive edge. These visionaries do not approach SOA as a single project but with a rollout as part of an enterprise-wide initiative.

Generally, I have seen a trend where there are more visionaries from certain industries that are adopting SOA as a way of life. The two industries that stick-out are Telecommunications and Financial Institutions. This does not come as a surprise as these industries have a history of investing in new technology/paradigms to gain a competitive edge as the margins in their respective industries are continually being compressed. Directly behind these two industries are Government agencies that are looking at SOA in assisting better information sharing between government agencies and as a means of enabling the automation of general population self-service.

The more advanced visionaries have seen that there are just as many challenges to SOA as there are benefits. Visionaries have seen many benefits when deploying their initial projects within one line of business. But when these visionaries expanded their projects across several lines of business they did not achieve the same level of benefits that were encountered in the initial projects. This has been mainly down to the additional challenges that the extra human involvement and interaction brings. Some of the side-effects and ramifications have been issues such as service sprawl where 100’s of services have been deployed and there are no consumers of those services or there are dozens of services with virtually identical functionality.

For early adopters to cross this chasm, they must appreciate the need for an SOA governance model that addresses the decision and accountability required. This requires the early adopters to have the will power and authority to address the political and culture change aspects of SOA and to realize that tools alone such as service registries are enablers and the not the final solution.

Unless companies have a comprehensive SOA governance strategy to address these risks then very little of the benefits that SOA offers will be realized and early adopters may end up with multiple silo-ed SOA solutions.

Early Majority

The early majority represents the first half of the mainstream market and is known to be very pragmatic. These pragmatists do not want to be seen as pioneers but take calculated approaches. They appreciate the business benefits of SOA but are less risk averse to what they see as a high-risk proposition.

When it comes to SOA, the early majority wants to make sure that all SOA products have gone through multiple released versions and that published web service standards have matured to the point, where they are supported by the majority of mainstream products. Pragmatists tend to purchase their products from known focused vendors with financial stability with a reputation of providing quality, stable and mature products. They tend to wait until the vendor market has matured to the point that there are 2-3 major vendors who are focused on their SOA needs, this assists in getting costs down and to have the security to move to an alternative.

Pragmatists value the experience of colleagues and want to learn best practices from the early adopters and to have detailed case studies and references from companies within their own industry.

For the early majority to cross the chasm they must approach a vendor who has solid case studies and references and an SOA methodology that allows them to appreciate that an SOA initiative does not have to be a high-risk proposition and that SOA can be delivered in an evolutionary manner via an incremental and measurable approach. The recent consolidation of a number of smaller SOA vendor shows that the SOA vendor market is maturing to the point where there are 2-3 major players that can offer the stability that they crave.

Late Majority

The late majority represents the second half of the mainstream market and is known to be very conservative. The late majority tend to be very hesitant as SOA is classified as a discontinuous technology/paradigm which conservatives are against as it requires political and culture changing events to occur within their enterprises. Conservatives would rather concentrate on the current year objectives rather then on multi-year disruptive technology/paradigms which would affect the “Business as usual” culture.

Conservative will wait until SOA becomes an established standard not only in their industry but across multiple industries. At the end of the day the late majority will require a multitude of cross-industry SOA references with an intensive detailed ROI business case before investing substantially.

These conservatives tend to hold off any technical major decisions and tend to be followers. Therefore for the late majority to cross the chasm they will wait until SOA hits the end of the hype curve and reaches the “Plateau of Productivity”


The laggards and in the case of SOA “The Skeptics”, either don’t understand the full scope of SOA or feel that there is a more risk-averse manner in which to achieve the same benefits that SOA offers.

Skeptics believe that SOA is just marketing and hype and the benefits and approach to SOA is no different to the component reuse approach that has been touted before. Component reuse did not deliver the benefits so why will SOA. The difference this time is that the market has evolved and matured where we now have mature developer products, web services standards to assist in interoperability and the knowledge and experience to understand that SOA is not just a technology play but requires additional IT disciplines to be successful such as Governance, Portfolio Management and Agile Methodologies.

Some laggards appreciate the issues that SOA is trying to address but feel that taking a single vendor approach to business applications will solve the issue. It is a bit ironic that these ERP vendors require middleware products to fuse together these separate business applications. In these fast moving times, companies need the ability to deploy new products, new services and improve customer relations in a timely manner. But history has shown us that ERP’s tend to erode a companies competitive advantage, as companies align their processes with the ERP’s standard processes rather then aligning the ERP’s processes with the companies.

Some laggards will wait until SOA hits its adoption peak and then try and play catch-up with their competitors. This could be a very expensive and disruptive proposition as SOA requires a culture change which in-turn requires time to feed in some learning experiences. As time is of the essence for laggards this imposes more pressure on the laggards as they try to speed the culture changing process through. So the laggards actually have a higher chance of failure.

SOA Maturity

Even when a company makes a decision to utilize SOA as an approach to build systems, this does not fully answer the question on whether SOA has hit mainstream and dictate whether 2006 will be the year that SOA really takes off.

As the SOA marketplace matures, new and improved approaches and software will be required. A primary benefit of SOA is that by allowing access to diverse services, it should make creating and changing business processes faster and easier. Implementing complex processes is inherently challenging and a new breed of platform that is focused on building, deploying and measuring these business processes looks like a technology for the future.

Business Process Platforms are still at the bottom rung of the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”. This infers that a company needs to make a commitment to deliver multiple systems/business processes across multiple lines of business before they can be thought of as being considered part of the SOA mainstream. In addition companies must appreciate that SOA is a journey and requires a focused multi-year multi-phase initiative to guide the company along the journey.

This raises the questions

  • “What level of maturity must a company’s SOA initiative be at, before being considered part of the mainstream?”
  • “How do you measure a company’s SOA maturity and the maturity of the company’s IT disciplines?”


So will 2006 be the year that SOA really takes off for you?

Reviewing the following questions should give you an indication:-

  • “Is your industry known for innovation?”
  • “What does your company try to achieve?”
  • “Do you require extensive business cases with detailed ROI?”
  • “Does your company have a history of innovation?”
  • “Do you fully understand the Organization & Governance aspects of SOA?”
  • “Do you realize that SOA is not a pure technology play? “
  • “How do you see yourself? Innovator, Early Adopter, Early Majority, Late Majority, Laggard”

So will 2006 be the year that SOA really takes off in the mainstream?

With SOA approaching the “Trough of Disillusionment”, I do not see this as a negative but as a positive, as the focus will now move away from the marketing aspects and onto the real delivery of SOA. SOA will shortly move towards the “Slope of Enlightenment”, which signals that the early majority are ready to start seriously implementing SOA. This will bring the early majority/pragmatists into the SOA mainstream and makes me believe that the next 12-24 months we will see a significant jump in SOA deployments across all major industries.

In effect, it is up to the early majority/pragmatists on whether 2006 will be the year of SOA.